Darkest Hour – V for Victory, or Close, but No Cigar?

Runtime:  125mins | Director: Joe Wright | Rating: 2.5 Stars

Ever since I was a child I’ve loved going to the cinema, and fortunately, my family enjoyed it too - my grandpa in particular. I have many fond memories of seeing films such as The Incredibles and Pirates of the Caribbean with him, unfortunately though, due to him getting older and myself getting busier, we hadn’t been in a very long time. Therefore, when Darkest Hour came out and he asked if I wanted to see it with him, I jumped at the opportunity. This was of special significance for him due to the fact he has vivid memories of when Churchill was in power, and was curious to see Oldman’s portrayal of him.

The film opens in May 1940, with Hitler at the height of his power and Europe on the brink of collapse. British Parliament is losing patience with a seemingly passive Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) and pass a vote of no confidence, leading to Winston Churchill’s (Gary Oldman) controversial election. Once in power, Churchill has enormous pressure on him to broker a peace deal, but despite this, he vows to fight, no matter the cost.

Before I continue, let me be clear – Gary Oldman is phenomenal in Darkest Hour.

Winston Churchill is an iconic figure around the world and therefore it was of paramount importance that director, Joe Wright, found an actor who could portray him well. Oldman not only portrays Churchill, but he becomes him.

Aided hugely by the impressive prosthetics applied by make-up artist, Kazuhiro Tsuji, Oldman becomes unrecognisable. Constantly puffing away on a cigar and generally with a glass of alcohol in his hand, he blusters, yells and demonstrates Churchill’s exceptional stubbornness and refusal to accept anything other than victory. That being said, Oldman also shows us a side to Churchill that was never seen in the public eye – one of fragility.

The main tension throughout the film is whether Churchill continues a war which is seemingly impossible to win or goes against his better judgement and enters peace talks in order to secure Britain’s safety. With this burden on his shoulders, it is no surprise that at many points Churchill wasn’t the fiery character we have come to know him to be, but instead, a man plagued with doubt – something Oldman portrays just as well as his more bombastic and egotistical side.

That being said, despite arguably giving his best performance to date, Oldman wasn’t able to carry the film alone. In fact, Oldman’s acting is the only truly memorable part of the film – the rest is dull and entirely forgettable. Whilst I didn’t expect to see much of the war itself (after all, it’s a film about Churchill) there is only so much tension you can provide from extended conversations and implied impending doom.

Additionally, as I’ve said in past reviews, visuals alone aren’t enough to carry a film (I’m looking at you, Loving Vincent) but the visuals of Darkest Hour weren’t impressive either as there was nothing in regard to cinematography to show off seeing as most of the scenes take place in either a dimly lit bunker or Parliament itself - hardly locations to write home about (or indeed, a beaming review!)

Due to a dull plot and forgettable cinematography, Darkest Hour doesn’t provide much other than disappointment and a platform for Oldman to show off his acting prowess. This leads me to wonder how on earth Darkest Hour has been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar when there are many more films that deserved one. It also leads me to wonder whether the film would have even been made had Oldman not agreed to play the part of Churchill... food for thought. 


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